Voters throughout Kansas City, Missouri, are being asked to decide whether to reverse a city council decision from earlier this year and change the name of what is now Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard back to Paseo Boulevard.
The election will be on a Nov. 5 ballot. In January, council members voted 8-4 in favor of the switch. An advocacy group called Save The Paseo then gathered more than 2,400 signatures on a petition against the change.
Rev. Vernon Howard of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, one of the proponents of the change, said Save The Paseo is a majority-white organization and collected most of its signatures from white residents.
“There are far less signatures from the predominately black zip codes in this city,” Howard said. “This does speak to the issue of race relations and white dominance and how a majority white group can lead an issue to affect a change of something in a predominately black area.”
Howard said proponents of the change canvassed the area around the boulevard before the council vote and collected 100 resident signatures in favor of renaming it after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
However, Andre Logan of Save The Paseo said his group collected between 100 and 200 signatures against the change in the same area. He said his organization is diverse and representative of the community.
“This is people from all backgrounds,” Logan said. “We cover the entire swath and spectrum of the people that live in this city. It’s not a monolith in terms of, ‘this is a white-led initiative,’ by any means or any stretch of the imagination.”
Logan said Save The Paseo is not against naming the boulevard after King. The group took issue with what he called a lack of community input before the decision was made early this year.
“What we wanted was a voice in the process,” Logan said. “Those people that live on the street, now they have a chance to voice their opinion about whether or not this is the right thing.”
It’s not the first time the city has made an attempt to rename a street after King. In 2011, then-3rd District Councilman Jermaine Reed tried to rename Prospect Avenue, but that measure failed. In 2016, the name change was proposed again.
Last year, a committee convened by then-Mayor Sly James considered naming The Paseo, as well as 63rd Street and the city's new airport terminal, after King. Howard said this time, several community leaders came out in support of renaming the boulevard to honor King’s legacy.
Now that the name has been changed, Howard is concerned with the optics of removing King’s name.
“We believe this is a major setback, if it were to happen, within racial justice,” Howard said. “Folks are saying they may not want to come to Kansas City for tourism.”
But Logan said many who support changing the boulevard back say Paseo Boulevard is rich with the history of Kansas City’s black community.
“People love The Paseo,” Logan said. “They work on The Paseo, there’s high schools, there’s a historical value that’s there that we shouldn’t erase.”
Rev. Vernon Howard and Andre Logan spoke to KCUR on a recent edition of Up to Date. Listen to the full conversation here.
Avery Gott is the news intern at KCUR 89.3.